Disney has painted itself into a corner.
The predicament in which the entertainment media giant now finds itself is one that is self-made. It is also one from which the company is unlikely to escape unscathed.
Some of the policies implemented and statements recently made by a number of Disney’s top level executives have created a backlash from all sides of the ideological and cultural spectrum. And the whole thing may wind up being one of the worst public relations disasters in the history of corporate Hollywood.
It’s an unthinkable saga. Disney became the recipient of severe criticism over the company’s response to a proposed bill in Florida regarding parental rights in education.
Some of the company’s most vocal employees staged a pressure campaign against Disney management, urging executives to use their influence in Florida to oppose the bill H.B. 1557.
Reported statements made by Disney resulted in customers and even some employees taking offense. Also placed in jeopardy were special legislative privileges that had previously been bestowed on Disney.
In a nationwide campaign, critics of the legislation, along with a complicit media, mischaracterized the bill, portraying H.B. 1557 as an anti-speech bill.
But the legislation did not ban specific words or any type of informal classroom discussion. Additionally, it did not require schools to notify parents concerning a child’s gender identification. What it did do was protect children in school settings from being introduced to ideas that were not age appropriate.
The Mouse House, which frequently remains silent on issues of societal and ethical importance to our own country and the world abroad, loudly condemned the duly passed Florida legislation.
But it became official. Despite the hubbub, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Florida bill into law.
Adding to the company’s troubles, several leaked videos surfaced of a virtual meeting in which Disney executives vowed to depict more “transgender and gender-nonconforming” characters in future productions.
The footage led to the impression that the company had betrayed its core audience, particularly adults who merely desired to have their little ones entertained and not indoctrinated.
Internally, there are some who disagree with the stance of the company for which they work. We may come to find that they actually comprise a majority of Disney employees. In any event, they released an open letter to the press and social media.
In their own words, the group of employees indicated that Disney’s response to the Florida law has made them feel as if they don’t belong “in a company actively promoting a political agenda so far removed from our own.”
The letter was anonymous and clearly stated the reason for its anonymity. “[Those] of us who want the company to remain neutral can say so only in a whisper out of fear of professional retaliation,” it read.
Seems like forever that Disney has been in existence. Over the years the company has been mindful of the importance of safeguarding its family brand, and more importantly, the minds and imaginations of the children entrusted to them by parents, grandparents, and guardians of youthful innocence.
This was a reputation that above all else was worth more than all the gold that the Magic Kingdom can hold.
Management right now is playing a villain that Captain Hook could never have matched. In addition to the promised introduction of a panoply of gender characters, the leaked videos also made the announcement that at Disney’s theme parks around the world, and presumably in its productions, references to phrases such as “ladies and gentlemen” and “boys and girls” will no longer be used.
This stance places the company in another PR pickle. Its website lists merchandise that is offered in the categories of “women’s,” “men’s,” “girls,” and “boys.”
Lots of royal characters are also in danger of being de-throned. Beloved princesses such as “Sleeping Beauty”’s Princess Aurora, “The Little Mermaid”’s Princess Ariel, and “Aladdin”’s Princess Jasmine may have their tiaras snatched away. And princes such as “Cinderella”’s Prince Charming, “Sleeping Beauty”’s Prince Phillip, and “Frozen”’s Prince Kristoff better watch their own crowns.
The primary assets of The Mouse House are found in its ownership of the original characters and stories. Over the years, Congress has extended Disney’s valuable copyright many times, due to the company’s successful lobbying efforts.
When Mickey Mouse first publicly emerged, the copyright law granted 56 years of protection. Mickey’s copyright would have expired in 1984, and the character would have become public domain. If that had occurred, anyone would have been allowed to use the animated celebrity without having to ask Disney’s permission or pay compensation.
However, before the 1984 expiration date hit, Congress passed an extension, which moved Mickey’s copyright expiration to 2003.
Then before the 2003 deadline arrived, Congress passed a revision, which extended Mickey’s protection deadline to January 1, 2024.
Now Disney faces the possibility that it could lose its valuable ownership of Mickey, should the 2022 midterm elections turn out to be favorable toward the GOP and Republicans become the House majority. This could result in significant losses for the entertainment giant.
House Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks (R-Indiana) has sent a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek, indicating that he will support the 2024 expiration of the Mickey Mouse copyright.
Mickey would then no longer be Disney’s property, but he would instead belong to the public-at-large. The entertainment company’s plans to present inappropriate sexual material to young children is what led Rep. Banks to conclude that he will not support any further extensions of Disney’s copyrights.
Rep. Banks also noted that Disney maintains a close business relationship with China. In his letter, the congressman noted that the company “…has allied with a hostile foreign regime and domestic ideologues who seek to tear our country apart.”
If all of this weren’t enough to make Disney do a quick turnabout, there is a strong possibility that the company may experience a significant loss of privilege in the way it has managed the Sunshine State’s Disney World.
Gov. DeSantis has announced that he is “receptive” to altering a decades-long state law that gives Disney the power to self-govern its Disney World properties.
Florida lawmakers have already met to look into repealing the 1967 law, which allowed Disney to establish its own government through the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Through this arrangement, Disney, in effect, is allowed to function as its own government, providing fire protection, emergency, utility, and planning services for the properties that surround Disney World.
The bottom line is if business execs don’t get their act together soon, it will mark the beginning of the end for the Happiest Place on Earth.